Saudi Arabia to let women drive

ABC News' Amna Nawaz interviews Fatimah Baeshen, a spokeswoman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington.
12:19 | 09/27/17

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Transcript for Saudi Arabia to let women drive
Hi everyone I'm on and not live in New York Weill to another big story we are following overseas. Yesterday the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia the only country in the world that prohibits women for driving. Announced it would end that practice issuing driver's licenses for women beginning for the first time in June of 2018. The teen the patient is a spokeswoman for the embassy in Washington DC the royal Saudi embassy there and joins us live. From our Washington DC bureau it came at thank you so much for joining us. I'm them to have the embassy thank you for having me so walk us through this decision for just a moment this is been hailed as a watershed moment a huge leap forward. Why now. Well. To echo the sentiments of our ambassador his raw highness. Prince husbands and none this is in fact the historic moments and but I think that this has been kind of a culmination. Leading up to this so I think. This is a continuum of us witnessing women entering into the public space. And gaining in the march towards progress over the last few years we've seen women answer into the labor market across several different industries we've seen women. Kane executive appointments with the Saudi stock exchange's chaired by a woman there's an airport insider it also also. The CEO which is also a woman. We've seen women also entering into the politics of the show at a council which is the an advisory arm to check kings and none has women appointments since 2013. We have municipal elections that women have participated in so I think although this is kind of a decision that we've seen now. Now we seeing women entering into the public space over the last few years and I think this is a positive kind of indication of the trajectory of but the direction the Saudi women are gonna continue to going. But certainly being held by a lot of human rights groups who have been fighting for this kind of change from many years I'm curious fell a lot of people are. About how those changes all those many changes you just listed and why they're coming about now a lot of people are pointing. To the appointment of a new crown prince Mohamed and son on just a few months ago he's young married 32 years old heir to the throne. There's a lot of reports that he would helping to push some of these reforms is that true. What ever since Oates uttering his reached a point in its history that it that needs to make some oops. Some shifts and crown prince at Simon Vincent man. Did come out and announce an economic reform strategy which is underpinned also by social and cultural reform so yes the leadership is leading this effort. At the same time it's it's a collective effort as well. And I think we're gonna see at the Pino as part of under the auspices of the vision 2030 some of the targets laid out. Particularly. Discuss that in the increase which regulation of women into the work force. And I think particularly with respect to the driving with issuing driver's licenses it will facilitate. Women being able to enter into the labor market at an even more scaled the K is. Previously mobility was a barrier into into the market for women so this will address this this is a policy that will address it head on. It's certainly a huge step back and help a lot of women in the ways that you just mentioned that the team let's be honest about that there are a lot of people in Saudi Arabia who don't agree with S. And after this announcement yesterday many of those people many of whom are probably become accustomed. Two with the customs and the practices and maybe even the control it gives them over there fellow female citizens. Starting to hang tag trending saying that the women in my house. Will not drive so what is the government like the kingdom prepared to do to ensure that all women who wants to drive can do sap. Well actually I think and then a bit the leadership has done exactly. That so let's just be clear about something Saudi Arabia is not. It's not monolithic like every other evolved societies Saudi Arabia and invite the spectrum of opinions that exist and so. But what the leadership has done what we've seen in several different spheres not just with respect to women are with respect to driving is we've seen kind of and policy it's the institutionalization of policy to reflect organically with happening on the ground. Driving has been as a bit of a social rights of social. Lightning rod issue for several decades and so what we've seen is kind of the public discourse that has that that has played out over the last few decades. That has facilitated kind of this reconciliation process and so. What we see now with this new policy in issuing driver's license for women is a reflection of what's the sentiments on the ground that it's time to kind of facilitate this for women so will people who get in the way women who want to drive be punished. I don't know that this is necessarily and about that punishment or I think what weapon as. You know when we talk about Saudi Arabia it doesn't necessarily have to be these hardline extremes Saudi Arabia as I mentioned is a is and about a vibrant society that that has several different opinions that exist within it. And I and I think at what what this decision and basically does it doesn't force women to drive the leadership is not gonna force women to drive tomorrow and respect. The spectrum of opinions that exist whether their conservative or. Or liberal and everyone in between all this does is is facilitate. Further choice and access what the same time respecting everybody's opinion of opinions across the board. You mentioned some of the change you've been seeing organically on the ground and overall over several years I've included some women who have been protesting the fact that they could not drive and over those years. Many of them were punished for protesting in that way somewhere arrested or detained when Mona was sentenced to lashes which became then. Overturned. I'm curious how the kingdom now views those women will there be an apology issued to them are they now viewed as early civil rights leader is what's the deal. On those women who helped to get this reform to the place it is today. I think that's a and that's an interesting question that I think it's also an important to keep in mind that it's not necessarily about harsh punishment here. You know people again I go back to the point that Saudi Arabia is as a dynamic society and you have different opinions that exists within that society. And a frequent speaking I think the leadership that you know for our for all of them for sexual kind of misunderstandings externally that's hiring is this very austere and kind of capital punishment society I think you know several women that were potentially it detained were also released and there was you know. We've seen also a critical mass with the freedom of expression on social media so hash tags that have kind of followed these women have have actually has kind of functioned as a that's. Freedom to petition kind of if you will end and has has actually led to their release and a lot of case after payment to become not asking about the punishment to stand at the time they were breaking the rules as they were in place I'm asking. How the kingdom views them now looking back seeing as they hadn't the leadership in their decision yesterday. This is necessarily about that ahead or behind I think this is more about a collective kind of overview of the sentiments that are on the ground. Let's move on man you meant mentioned all the many ways in which women have been able to now participate in areas that weren't open to them before and Saudi Arabia has allowed women. To participate in Olympic Games they can now run in go to local elections you mentioned there inclusion on the Shura Council now. But there are still many basic elements serve on a basic human rights level that women. Still don't enjoy as a whole though is sort of falling under the male guardianship rules where men their husband or their fathers or their first male relative. Have at this. Over where and when or how or if they get to travel or Mary what's the plan for adjusting that inequality moving forward. At and am actually. Very glad that you brought up this question let's talk about the guardianship system for just a second because I think there's a lot of kind of misconception about this so. At which respects at women's rights and women empowerment pottery to has made tangible strides. You know if we look at what empowerment and and and women's rights really entails it's really about access to assume control. And I think Saudi Arabia has they tangible sacked strides in the areas of access and choice. And is still working on and elements of control. Now there's been a decree issued to review the guard insists that guardianship system that that aside. Act think there's a very big difference between this kind of institutional policy vs what happens on the grounds all giving an example you can have a Saudi women like myself and several other Saudi women. Right next to another group of Saudi women who would have very different experiences and their day to day basis opening a bank account without anyone knowing. Act coming back and forth to work without anyone knowing changing jobs renting an apartment. And they knew it have a different group that would have a bit of the different experience but that's not necessarily the leadership that's actually kind of that cultural social norms within the and then microcosm of the specific got family unit. I think we just need to make that distinction that his if it needs to be made their lot of misconceptions around. But those came cultural social norm does come down from either decrees or explicit rules from the leadership himself this driving ban. It's a perfect example of that this was never about religion as mentioned by ambassador this was always about culture of what was considered a social norm so it takes. King the leadership it takes people saying this is what we hold to be the norm before that trickles down to the society don't you agree. Actually that's what's happening now I'm them thank you for answering your own question that's in exactly what's happening now so I think the leadership is actually responding. Add to the sentiment on the ground and by institutionalizing. Policy that will facilitate. Oh women drive saying that will facilitate physical education and because these at these activities have have been happening organically on the ground and have. Kind of created a critical mass that that leadership is following kind insist that that. The evolving a societal norms if you well that's what I'll I'll have to disappear give it leadership has not come out explicitly said that women should have the right to travel and Mary as they seek it. So Tippett let let's speak about the guardianship system if we really kind of pin it down. The this specific area that the guardianship system it is still and again it's under review as we speak. Is what is with respect to travel documents that really is that it's it's a very specific area that's really one of the areas that is still kind of that an area that will be that is being reviewed as we speak. Let's talk about this because obviously there's a lot more work to be done as is he seemed to and he seemed to believe as well this. You know you look at just a gap that exists between the rights and the access that available to women and men just in Saudi Arabia they they are. Very very far apart on the last global gender report Saudi Arabia ranks they think a 141. Out of a 144. Countries so as he say that yeah things are trending in the right direction. They're not happening necessarily fast enough to to match what seems to be happening on the ground in terms of protests and the organic movement he'd been mentioning. So am I I don't know at if you've ever had an opportunity to visit pottery back. We would actually have loved to invite you to come visit Saudi Arabia I actually have and I would love and pat thank you get squeezed but we will actually love to have you with his it would be great to have you experience and kind of witness firsthand what's happening on the ground. I would actually I would actually disagree he and I think that there are a lot of misconceptions around. And a Saudi society and particularly Saudi women Saudi women in Britain but regardless of the driving or not driving have been able to accomplice accomplished. Excuse me accomplish. So many different things are Saudi women who are doing cancer research their key Saudi women are rocket scientists that are mountaineers and our mothers or daughters that are sisters. As I don't think that we can kind of assess this women and there and they and they are kind of empowerment. At the end these could be a very kind of myopic lens of of driving again different from the leadership standpoint this is about expanding choice and access to facilitate if women choose to enter into the labor markets. And and and and their leadership actually recognizes that that that. We need women to the to achieve economic. Reform targets that have been set out vision 2030 misses at you know. Symbolic and that since as well. But beyond that it's it's ultimately up to a woman fit to choose how to live her life in that regard. I Fatima. Patient fromm at the Saudi royal Saudi embassy in Washington DC at thank you so much bigger time. Thank you fat content today and thank you for the invitation as well by Kentucky up on it Wednesday. Absolutely thank you. Thanks to all of you for watching as well you can had a pretty any time for continuing coverage of this story. Or salad ABC news facts get all the breaking news headlines and updates right to your phone or mobile device for now I'm mom and a box and I'll see you back here soon.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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